Cafe Bar Pasta
Cafe Bar Pasta opened its doors at the end of July to the Dundas West neighbourhood, bringing a friendly, family style restaurant and cafe (don't forget bar) to the hood with great touches of artistic modern elegance.
It's apparent upon arrival that Owner Tom Bielecki (along with wife and designer Christine) has a flair for art and fashion, from the massive cork wall (that customers can contribute to after partaking in a bottle) to the huge mural that wraps itself around the dining room, or the MOMA chandelier. The space was Tom's father-in-law's old insurance office and the very place he asked him for permission to marry Christine.
The space embraces the three concepts suggested by the name: when you arrive there is a beautiful communal butcher block style table made of a hard white and wormy maple, with built in power outlets for your computer or phone, along with an exposed brick wall and the latest paper or magazine hanging conveniently. Need some java and a snack while reading or perusing the internet? - no problem.
As for the coffee, we try an espresso ($2.50) with a chocolate, Grand Marnier salted biscotti ($1.50) both go down very easily, and tempt me and my dining companion to try one of the other pastries on offer, all made in house (by pastry chef Kristopher Lavoie). However, we are here for all 3 of the dining experiences, and must save some room. Next stop: the bar.
Bar manager James Playford (formerly of Campagnolo) is excited to show me some of his drink concoctions including the Mexican Standoff $15 - starting with a housemade sangria base, James then adds Tromba tequila, Emmascarado mezcal, Amarena cherry syrup and egg white. Garnished with an espelette pepper powder the end result is a smoky, sour, sweet drink with a hint of spice. Truly inventive and delicious.
The bar has seven taps as well, with only one of them being beer, although there are 4-6 bottles or cans of craft brew that change on a regular basis. The rest are wine taps, showcasing reds, whites, and sparkling wine from Ontario. James explains that the wine goes from the barrel to the glass and is never exposed to air, helping to shield the wine from the effects of oxygen, bottle shock and cork.
So far, so good. So how does Chef Edward Furlani's menu stack up against the decor and impressive beverage offering? In all honesty, it absolutely shines.
Our first plate is the Kitfo ($15), a take on the traditional beef tartare. Sanagan's beef tenderloin is chopped and blended with house made ghee, cardamom, daikon, and pistachios topped with micro greens and accompanied with housemade lavash flatbread. The beef is soft and tender while the pistachios and lavash lend an added crunch for texture.
Next up are the Meatballs ($8). Growing up with Italian parents, I always find myself to be scrutinizing my childhood favourite every time someone other than my Mom makes them, but these confound my family pride: 3 tender, moist balls of beef and deliciously fatty pork. Not too big, and covered with a simple and tasty tomato sauce and fresh parm. Nothing over-reaching or complex, but everything a meatball should be, with a little extra sauce to soak up with fresh bread. My dining partner and I squabbled over the last one!
The Orata tartar ($12) could be my favourite item of the day, this fresh sea bream is sliced heavenly thin and marinated in lime, honey, olive oil and mint, and served with fried black squid ink pasta and a raspberry compote, this is the reason this place will have me coming back again and again.
One of the main features of the restaurant is the stunning pasta drying room beneath the dining area. It's clear that these guys take their pasta very seriously, and the Bucantini Amatriciana ($16) doesn't disappoint. A (slightly thicker) spaghetti style noodle with a hole in the centre (to allow for maximum tomato sauce coverage) is slathered with a lovely simple sauce of tomato, onion, chillies and pieces of pork jowl. The pasta is outstanding with an amazing bite and texture.
We finish with the daily selection of semifreddo ($6), there are usually 8 on any given day. We try the Lizan herbal tea, Oh Henry, and vanilla bean. Again made in-house, these rounded out the experience really nicely.
For such a small space, Cafe Bar Pasta manages to accomplish quite a few different things (also incorporating a private dining room, and plans are underway for cooking classes in the coming months). This all sounds a bit ambitious, but they're definitely delivering on all three fronts right now.
UPDATE: Chef Edward Furlani is no longer at Cafe Bar Pasta as of September 2013. Photos by Jesse Milns